“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” ~ Luke 6:45
I experienced the frightening power of the brain shortly after Janis and I hooked up our first cable TV back in the mid-1990s. As I shared earlier on Day 20, there were some movie channels as part of the package which we hadn’t signed up for, but when you clicked on those channels, you didn’t just get a blank screen like you get today with digital. You saw wavy lines. Those wavy lines were like a bad picket fence – you could often see quite a lot if you looked carefully enough. It didn’t take long before I was taking frequent, if not nightly, strolls past that fence line.
As if the gathering storm of addiction wasn’t frightening enough, something else happened then that was bizarre and very chilling. One weekend we were at my grandparents’ house watching TV together. Grandpa was trying to find the right program, and he went past a wavy line channel. Though no one else could see it, I flinched. The image of the wavy lines grabbed my eyes, and a small charge of arousal sped through me, like the soft current of a TENS unit.
Shortly after that, I was having my daily coffee with Jesus, reading my Bible and talking to the Lord. Suddenly, the thought was there in my mind. “My son, do you see what’s happening? You’re getting turned on by wavy lines. Don’t you think this is a bit ridiculous?” It was true. Like a Pavlovian dog, I was conditioning my body and mind to react with sexual attraction to lines on a screen.
Jesus, who knew all about the design of the brain (after all, he created it, cf. Colossians 1:16) wouldn’t have used the word neuroplasticity in first-century Rome. They probably would have stoned him for it. But he did teach the concept. “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” (Luke 6:45, NIV). I’ve referred to this over the years as the Great Purity Principle – that which fills us flows from us. I was discovering this first-hand with my squiggly lines.
And all of this works thanks to the storehouse of the brain. Rather than being the shaper of behavior, as was thought for years, the brain is actually more the recorder of behavior. Perhaps Judgment Day won’t be so much God judging us, as God just plugging in our brains and letting the tape play.
A few years ago, gay activists caught wind that the brains of homosexuals were different from those of heterosexuals. See! we were told. This proves homosexual orientation is innate. It proves nothing of the sort. All it proves is that these people practiced homosexuality. And the brain wrote it down.
Which also proves other things:
- That changing one’s sexual bent or behavior is far from easy. Christians must exercise great compassion while ‘hating the sin and loving the sinner.’
- That a person can become sexually wired to respond erotically to any number of things. Men are especially prone to fetish attachments, and have been shown to experience arousal from a disturbing number of objects and arrangements.
- That exposing children to the teaching that hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, poly- is all one and the same, is playing with fire. All this encourages is sexual experimentation, and once the brain gets on board at puberty, we are handing our children over to the monsters of sexual confusion.
With the Lord’s rebuke and help, a temporary purity ceasefire came to my heart, and I managed to stop walking the picket fence, during which time wavy lines went back to being just wavy lines. By cutting off the flow of impure images, I had taken step one in training my mind.
Step two is equally important. To be transformed and trained…
Our minds must be renewed, which occurs by filling the reservoir of our minds with pure and godly thoughts.
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart.” Nature abhors a vacuum, and because of our sin nature, an empty and inert mind is like a bare space on the lawn. Unless it’s reseeded with grass, weeds will quickly come and fill it.
Jesus compared a human to a house. An evil spirit can be driven out of a person, but when it circles back (and evil almost always circles back), if it finds the house “empty, swept and put in order” it will quickly reoccupy its former territory, even calling in some of its friends, “and the last state of that person is worse that the first.” (Matthew 12:43-45). The key to lasting change is to make sure our house is not empty. “Be filled with the Spirit,” the Bible urges us (Ephesians 5:18). That which fills us, flows from us.
Thankfully, those who follow Christ have access to the most generous, eye-popping buffet table imaginable, overflowing with more delectable options than the finest Sunday brunch.
Here are a few menu items that are especially nourishing and filling.
First: Fill Yourself With God’s Word
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Paul wrote (Colossians 3:16). Repeatedly, the Bible speaks of itself as food for our souls. Job said he treasured the words of God’s mouth more than his necessary food (Job 23:12; an amazing confession when you consider how little of the Bible was written in his time.) Ditto with David, who proclaimed God’s laws as sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10). Jeremiah confessed to ‘eating’ God’s words, and “your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
Christians with their Bibles are often mocked for being brainwashed, when the truth is, we read our Bibles to wash our brains. The Church is sanctified and cleansed by the “washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). A steady diet of Scripture is essential for mind transformation and training.
Second: No really – FILL YOURSELF With God’s Word
Another critical arrow to add to your quiver is the practice of Scripture memorization. The writer of Psalm 119 said beautifully, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11). Many of you will say, “But I can’t do that. I don’t have a good memory.” To which I need only say, “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese…” and every one of you over 40 will add, “…pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” (If you’ve under 40, Google it.) The point is, we all memorize things, we’re just not used to doing it with Bible verses.
In “The Shallows”, Nicholas Carr says of memorization, “The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness. Storing explicit memories and equally important, forming connections between them require strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement.”
Or, if you prefer, here’s Rick Warren’s translation of Carr: Review, review, review.
Third: Fill yourself through godly friends
You may think yourself stronger than this, but the people you hang out with most will fill you with what they’re filled with. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” In time, you’ll begin talking, thinking and acting like each other.
This being the case, it’s critical to your spiritual health that you chum around most with those who are spiritually healthy. David wrote, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).
This doesn’t mean you become a Pharisee and start avoiding the unchurched people in your life as unclean contaminants. They need you and the message you carry. Jesus, the “friend of sinners” expects you to be the same. But it does mean you begin to exercise greater wisdom with those who enter the orbit of your life. And if they begin to influence you more than you are influencing them, then show some discernment and make adjustments.
Fourth, fill yourself with good and godly art
Immediately after Paul instructed the Ephesians to be “filled the Spirit” he completed the thought by saying, “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:18-19). There is spiritual power in music that reaches straight to our hearts, and can motivate us for good or evil.
Hitler drew inspiration from the music of Wagner, which he found bold and militaristic, appropriate to the Teutonic pride he sought to revive in Germany. Each step in the German people’s surrender to Hitler’s will was taken to the sound of music. We’re told that “gangsta rap” only reflects culture rather than shapes it. (When I lived in Minnesota, the natives had a saying for anything that sounded ridiculous: Yah shore, ya betcha.)
When a football team charges out to the field, the band isn’t playing Silent Night. We work out to music, shop to music, drive to music, study to music. The Old Testament describes battles where – when the Hebrews took the battlefield – the musicians went first. David’s playing of the lyre helped soothe Saul in his madness. Elisha sometimes prophesied only after a musician played. We would be foolish to neglect music as a strategic part of our spiritual healing.
I’m not saying that you should only listen to Christian music. I’m not saying that there are styles of music which are inherently bad. But what I am saying is that whatever music it is that touches your soul and draws you closer to heaven – be it a hymn or chorus, Hillsong or Isaac Watts, organ or band – bring more of that music into your life.
While you’re at it, take an inventory of all the art that you feed upon with your mind. The TV and movies and books you consume – do they pass the Philippians 4:8 test? (It’s one of our memory verses this week. Go ahead and recite it right now. I’ll wait right here.)
Here’s the bottom line: Jesus seems to think that we can develop the Word-fed, Grace-bred, Spirit-led discipline to direct our thoughts in specific directions. Since he thinks it’s possible, then it’s time for you to develop that discipline.
It’s never the first look that gets us into trouble. In fact, there’s nothing we can do about the first look. Usually it comes out of nowhere. You didn’t ask for that pretty girl or that hunk of man to be coming down the escalator as you were going up. It’s the second and third looks that sideswipe us. And it’s the second and third look that our Lord thinks we can control.
Don’t think it’s possible? Think of a rabbit right now. Is he there in your mind? All soft, furry and cuddly? Okay, now think of a tiger. Where’d the rabbit go? You just bumped him temporarily out of mind (or else the tiger ate him.)
Now take that five seconds of discipline you just exercised and extend it. Direct it toward things that are true, honorable, just, pure and lovely.
What ideas in this reading did you find helpful or challenging?
Write down some observations – good and bad – about the Great Purity Principle – that which fills us flows from us.
Write out some thoughts on how you are doing right now with the discipline of spending time daily in God’s Word. Is it easy? Hard? What are you learning?
Have you ever experienced a “spiritual strengthening” through worship music? What could you do to have more of those moments?
Prayer and Worship
“Father, I thank you for…”
“Father, please help me with…”
“Father, please be with…”
“In the name of Jesus, who died for my sins, who rose from the dead and who is with me now through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Today’s Worship Suggestion: “How Great Thou Art” (Carl Boberg, Stuart K. Hine)
This Week’s Memory Verses
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” ~ Philippians 4:8
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” ~ Psalm 42:11